5 Tips to Avoid Giclee Fine Art Print Deceptions

This set of hand embellished giclees on canvas by caricature artist Sebastian Kruger titled, “ROLLING STONES 40 x 40 Suite” sold for $16,895 in June 2015.

Making fine art prints using the giclee (inkjet printing from a digital file) process was developed about thirty years ago, and the art world has in been in turmoil about it ever since. Civil suits, consumer complaints, and criminal cases surrounding fine art giclees appear regularly. One would think that after three decades, the public would have a higher awareness of issues surrounding the giclee making process, but apparently that’s not the case. The art world, of course, is well informed on the subject, but that knowledge hasn’t become widespread.

The most famous fraud (still being talked about on art forums and blogs) is the 2007 case involving Fine Art Treasures Gallery. Between 2002 and 2006, the Gallery sold more than $20 million dollars’ worth of giclee prints (some claimed to be signed by Picasso, Chagall, and Dali) via DirecTV. Of course, the fraud was that the gallery owners misrepresented what they were selling. The perpetrators were successful because the technique was new and convincing; it was easy to believe that the artworks were authentic. Some buyers made multiple purchases, spending as much as $50,000.

“Love Our Home,” a limited edition hand embellished giclee on canvas hand signed by Alexander Antanenka sold for $9,050 in October 2016.

Despite the brouhaha regarding giclees, the market for them is booming. Dealers and artists have figured out how to cash in on the trend, and are doing so in large numbers. Limited Edition Art Print Giclees are the “go-to” art for modern homes. From a few feet away, a quality giclee may be indistinguishable from an original artwork. In January 2018, Investopedia.com touted their financial possibilities:

“Still, there’s no denying that a giclée puts fine art within reach for many art enthusiasts, and while a certificate doesn’t lend much value to the reproduction, a fresh signature and especially a remarque (an original drawing made by the artist in the margin of the giclée) could bump up future value. 

It’s no wonder that giclees are so popular; properly done, the technique results in a startlingly good reproduction with good archival value at an approachable price. Not all giclees are of equal quality, though. Differences in ink, paper, canvas, file resolution, color reproduction, and machine sophistication all affect a print’s quality.

This giclee of “Country Living” by Thomas Kinkade sold for $2710 in April 2012.

Uninformed art buyers are easy prey for a slick sales pitch and misleading “factoids.” Here are five claims that sellers may use to overstate the value of an artwork, and tips to confirm or reject their assertions:

1. Claim: “The work is an oil painting.”

Tip: Oil paintings are done on canvas. Look closely; do you see any paint? Oil and acrylic paints sit on the surface of a canvas. Rub your fingertips across the surface of the work; if it is a painting, you should be able to feel brush-stroke variations in the surface. Most giclee prints will have a smooth surface.

Also, giclee ink may seep slightly into canvas. Seepage may be revealed by examination with a magnifying glass.

If still in doubt, remove the art from the frame and examine the edges. Paintings will have random paint edges from brushstrokes and base-coats. Printed images will have straight edges, as in a book.

2. Claim: “This is a unique, hand-embellished, one-of-a-kind artwork.”

Embellished giclees are a big money-maker for art dealers. In this technique, portions of a giclee are hand-highlighted so it appears to have been painted. Thomas Kinkade Studios and Park West Gallery tout these artworks with great success. Kinkade, for example, says of their embellished artworks: “every Thomas Kinkade Limited Edition Canvas is hand-retouched by skilled artisans, giving the painting a look almost identical to the artist’s on-easel original.” Prices can go up by a factor of three or more for embellished products. Are these giclees inherently more valuable that their non-embellished counterparts? The sellers certainly think so; I’m not sure resale markets agree with them. Since Kinkade and Park West control the distribution of their products, objective analysis of market prices is difficult.

Tip: A solid body of secondary market information is available through WorthPoint. It would be wise for prospective buyers to search the Worthopedia for similar items before making a buying decision.

3. Claim: “The work is a watercolor.”

Tip: Watercolors are done on paper and will be framed under glass. Water causes a paper surface to ripple slightly; for this analysis, it may be necessary to remove the art from its frame. Hold the artwork at an angle so light reflects off the surface. If the surface ripples, it is probably a painted watercolor. If the surface appears perfectly smooth, it is likely a giclee print. Does the paper artwork have characteristics that you would expect to find on an oil painting, like brush or palette knife strokes? If it doesn’t, it’s a giclee print.

4. Claim: “We issue a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) with each artwork.”

Tip: A valid COA will contain details of production such as the artist’s name, printer, media, techniques, dates, and other pertinent information. Most importantly, it will include the name and contact information of the issuer. In many states, a COA carries the same weight as an express warranty, and issuing a spurious COA constitutes fraud and carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail. Read the COA before buying, and make sure that it lives up to the seller’s claims and contains all the necessary information.

5. Claim: “This edition of the artwork is limited to (#) copies.”

Tip: Find out if there are other editions of the same image, and in what ways the edition is limited. Typically, limited editions of hand-pulled (artist created) art are limited in quantity, and numbered on the art itself. As such, it may rise in value relative to the popularity of the artist and the rarity of the art (size of the edition). However, “limited” doesn’t always mean limited in number. The Thomas Kinkade image “Italian Cafe” comes in five editions, three sizes, and two mediums, in prices ranging from $175 to $4740. Although it’s promoted as “limited edition art,” Kinkade Studios asserts that “This (Italian Cafe) Limited Edition title is normally stretched and/or prepared individually for each order.” In other words, it prints on demand. It is not limited in quantity, but by price point.

Todd White’s “Bar Tales”…an original hand embellished giclee sold for $10,000 in March 2014.

The above tips apply to both art sold by an originating dealer and/or artist, as well as by resellers. Wherever you buy, remember that nothing destroys your appreciation of an artwork more than discovering that you over-paid for it.

Wayne Jordan is a Virginia-licensed auctioneer, Certified Personal Property Appraiser and Accredited Business Broker. He has held the professional designations of Certified Estate Specialist; Accredited Auctioneer of Real Estate; Certified Auction Specialist, Residential Real Estate and Accredited Business Broker. He also has held state licenses in Real Estate and Insurance. Wayne is a regular columnist for Antique Trader Magazine, a WorthPoint Worthologist (appraiser) and the author of two books. For more info, check out Wayne’s blog at SellMoreAntiques.com.

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